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The overriding "first to issue" rule of Brussels II and the importance placed by some other jurisdictions worldwide who and where the divorce proceedings started, and the potential ramifications of getting that wrong, means that practising in international family law brings additional pressures over and above the already significant stresses and strains experienced by the domestic family law practitioner.
Any family law practice that has been instructed in relation to an international case or are marketing themselves as international should give very careful consideration as to whether they are equipped to deal with the particular needs of such cases, both in terms of experience and practically, and of international clients and the issues concerning their children.
The Law Society Family Law Protocol (2nd edn) picks up on the particular issues at paragraph 1.8.1 and the importance of practitioners keeping up to date with the latest developments in the area and feeling comfortable with dealing with cross border issues.
Fifteen years ago in M v M (Financial Provision after Foreign Divorce)  1 FLR 339 Thorpe J commented that "cases with an international dimension... require wisdom and experience that can only be gained from specialist practice in this comparatively limited field". That closed circle has fortunately now ended with the massive increase in the work.
In embarking on international cases firms should give particular consideration as to whether they have the practical support structures in place. These vary from their proximity to the court in order to issue a petition expeditiously (as in some jurisdiction races even the precise time of issue is fundamental) to whether they have the appropriate text books, periodicals and precedents within the office.
Practices also need the capacity to deal with the work. This involves the physical time to do the work, (which often requires other case work to be dropped at short notice) and the ability to work out of hours as these cases often require due to time differences and their urgency. Availability of staff at a number of levels is also important - partners, assistant solicitors, trainees and support staff all have their crucial roles in international cases - from initial instructions to drafting the documents and the inevitable wait to go before the District Judge of the day to have issue of the petition expedited.
Firms also need the necessary contacts in jurisdictions available at their fingertips - advice is needed almost immediately and waiting two or three days to respond to an email simply will not suffice.
International work is escalating and 2011 will bring more cases than 2010. The work is demanding - and also very interesting. For those in our early years in the family law profession, it is the future of our law, and our way of working. These are exciting times to develop a family law career.
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